Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hornbill Heights (Part 3) - Incarcerated

The second part of this blog is here

I had been looking forward to this weekend. Usually, when Woodcrawler Jr is around we plan a trip somewhere. Unfortunately he broke the gears on the rear wheel of his bicycle and his priority was getting it repaired at the earliest. If that was not done, his daily trips to his friend's place would not happen. Since the bicycle shop would open on Sunday we decided to stay put in town to drop his bicycle for repair. So when we woke up it was with a lazy Sunday mentality!

After dropping off the bicycle we were wondering what to do. Our plan to go to Silent Valley was out because we would have to have started before daybreak. Then I remembered the hornbills. I was free so I could spend some time observing them from close quarters. We loaded up the cameras and drove off. In retrospect, it seemed that the broken bicycle gear was a blessing. If not for it, I'd have missed some serious action!

WARNING: Some of the videos (& photos) in this post are rated PG. In case you are following this blog with young children be ready to tell them about 'the birds & the bees'!

9th, February 2014 @ 11.15 AM

The mynas were still at it, harassing the hornbills but it seemed the bigger birds were not too bothered. They had a settled look about them. Even though the mynas were still trying to take their nest back, their attempts looked half-hearted. There wasn't much activity from the hornbills and the second pair was nowhere to be seen.

I had a good look at the hole the second pair was trying to nest in. There were two holes close to each other and both were smaller than the hole on the trunk. I was wondering if the second pair had abandoned it because of its size. It seemed more suited for myna sized birds.

There wasn't much hornbill activity so I returned home planning to go back later in the day.

9th February, 2014 (4.45 PM to 6.00 PM)

I reached the tree a little past 4.30 PM. Things looked quiet and I walked up slowly not wanting to disturb the birds. I was surprised to see the myna pair at the smaller hole. Perhaps they found the smaller hole more suitable than the bigger one. After all, it's foolhardy messing with a bigger bird armed with a formidable beak!

As I walked around to the main hole I found the male sitting on guard and he took off startled by my sudden appearance.

Seizing the opportunity one of the mynas flew down to re-take what, to them, was rightfully theirs. I noticed it was hesitant to go into the hole for some reason. Under normal circumstances it would have flown straight to the mouth of the hole and entered it.

It called out to it's mate who came and sat on a branch just above the hole, making no attempt whatsoever to reoccupy their old nest. Both of them were squawking their protest but showed no inclination to reassert their claim.

The male hornbill was just watching these antics, probably amused by it.

Even the crow that was also getting ready to start its family wasn't looking very happy at the disturbance!

One of them was  flying around all over but it's mate settled down on the branch. Obviously, it had given up or was waiting for an opportune moment.

Suddenly the myna got up and called to its mate. Then they were both looking towards the hole. I thought, perhaps, they had decided to give it an attempt despite the male sitting just above them and looking them over with a keen eye. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement and at the opening of the hole there was a small pointed protuberance (see in the yellow circle).

The pointed thing gradually grew in size and then it dawned on me why the mynas were keeping their distance.

 It was the female hornbill crawling her way out of her nesting hole!!

It appeared to be a tight squeeze but she managed to wriggle out; head first, then a wing and then another. She flew up to join her mate waiting for her. No sooner had she vacated the hole the mynas were back!

One of them seemed to accepted the fact that the hole was now gone from their control this season but the other wasn't giving up so easily!

 The two hornbills, meanwhile had no worries about the myna. They had full control over the hole now. It was now time to put the next plan into action. Making babies!

The male sidled up to his partner stretching his neck and making displays with his bill. His intention was clear. He was in the mood for something erotic!

WARNING: The photos & videos coming up after this are PG rated. As I had mentioned earlier, if you are reading this blog with young children, be ready to tell them about 'the birds & the bees'!

The female hopped off to the next branch, reading her partner's intentions. She wanted to be on a stable perch for the action to follow. As soon as he got his invitation the male mounted her. (Time: 5.25 PM)

The mating lasted for more than a minute with violent flapping of wings and crossing of bills.

Then the male dismounted and they sat together a little apart, catching their breaths! The female, who looked visibly exhausted, was lying pressed against the branch.

The male then called out to her and she seemed to respond. Maybe he was telling that a voyeur was standing below and watching them!

They flew off to another tree but didn't hang around too long. The male was showing his intention but the female was too tired to mate again so soon I guess. She flew back to the tree followed by the male.

The male kept giving me looks with his beady eye, as if asking me why I was intruding on their romance?

He then hopped to another branch and was looking for a gift to coax his beloved to have another session of lovemaking!

He came back with a fruit and the game of passing the fruit started again, even though the female still looked tired after her exertions.

I guess the urge to nest was strong in her too. The pair moved away to another branch and another bout of mating occurred (Time: 5.54 PM). This time it went on for more than two minutes.

After the second bout of lovemaking the female just lay on the same spot, too drained to move immediately.

I packed my gear and walked to my car. The light was fading and I had been given the privilege of witnessing something unique. I had been intruding on their privacy all day. It was time to leave them in peace.

The Tree Hole over the weeks

The tree hole that I have been observing too underwent a change. What was a round wide opening in November became half its width, and then a small slit. The female had confined herself inside and only her bill was visible occasionally.

Early November 2013

11th February, 2014

11th February, 2014

Peek-a-boo, 11th February, 2014
12th February, 2014. The final appearance of the slit like opening.

As I watched the hornbill's beak withdraw inside I realized that I have been witness to a miracle of nature. These events that I have recorded have played out in the heart of a bustling town, on a piece of land sandwiched between a railway station and a bus stand. I am sure, not many would have had the fortune to witness these scenes coming one after another in sequence. I am blessed.

I have also realized another truth. Woodcrawling is not, only about walking around the jungles. It can happen right at our doorsteps. We only have to keep our eyes open!

Now the period of anxious waiting starts. I haven't seen the male the last couple of mornings. It has probably gone foraging for food, to feed his confined beloved. For him, and me, the next 60-70 days are crucial. We are not going to see the female lay her eggs and incubate them. We'll know only when the chicks hatch and the activity in the nest picks up.

Watch this space for the appearance of the fledglings and a break out! 

All photographs in this series (Parts 1 to 3) have been shot using cameras with telephoto lenses (Olympus E3, Olympus OM-D EM-5, Zuiko 300mm f.28 with 2x TC & M.Zuiko 70-300mm). No bird was harmed or disturbed during the shooting of pictures or videos. No flash photography was done. No means to access the nest was used. All photographs were shot from ground level from a safe distance.